GenerateHope Founder Susan Munsey. Photo by Joanne Max

GenerateHope Founder Susan Munsey

GenerateHope. There Is A Way Out. Girls Caught in the Web of Sex Trafficking

Written by Samantha Baer

She was a young teenager feeling lost and alone. Seeking approval and love, she was led down a path that ultimately destroyed her life. This scenario is all too common for hundreds of girls, who become victims of sex trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department, “Child/Human Trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. Child/Human trafficking is the world’s second largest criminal enterprise, after drugs. Approximately 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women and girls…” *
While sex trafficking is a global problem, it’s also one that hits hard in cities throughout the United States. Once a target herself, Susan Munsey founded an organization to provide a safe place for victims of sex trafficking to be restored through long-term housing, healing, and education. GenerateHope is a faith based organization that helps women reintegrate into society and walk powerfully into their future. Risen recently sat down with Munsey to talk about the trappings of prostitution in sex trafficking, the hold it has on its victims, and the hope that can help them escape.

Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California

Risen Magazine: For people who are unfamiliar with the term sex trafficking how would you explain it?
Susan Munsey: I see sex trafficking as an umbrella term, and underneath it a lot of different things can fall. It can be somebody that has moved from Russia and is now being sold in brothels in Amsterdam, to somebody who is trafficked against their will and being held in chains, to somebody that answered an “Internet Bride” ad where she thought she was going to be a wife, or a housekeeper or a nanny; or, it could even be somebody – like the girls GenerateHope sees most often – which have been lured into prostitution and are being sold on the streets, or sold through the Internet.
Using the Internet is much more common now; it’s where most of the business happens–through the web and cell phones. I think people tend to think it, [sex trafficking] only happens like in Cambodia, Thailand, Amsterdam, Germany or somewhere foreign. But it’s happening right in our backyard and all over the [United] States. California has three of the top eight cities in our nation for child prostitution: San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

GenerateHope. Photo by Joanne Max

GenerateHope. Photo by Joanne Max

Risen Magazine: How has having a degree in clinical social work impacted the way you approach your ministry?
Susan Munsey: Oh it has helped tremendously! In just the way that it has shaped my mind to be helping people along with my faith, but I think there are so many other skills that I have learned in social work that apply to working with the girls. Clinical social work is more the therapy, which is what I was doing before I started GenerateHope. Throughout the day there are therapeutic opportunities with the girls and while they aren’t always open to talking in the beginning – like many of us, we don’t necessarily pour our hearts out to strangers – as they get to know each of us [GenerateHope team] and trust is built, they begin to open up.

Risen Magazine: How do you find the girls?
Susan Munsey: A lot through law enforcement and also through social service agencies. We work closely with the police department if they are referring girls, or to help them if the girls are going to be testifying in a case, and just trying to help support the girls as they acclimate in the process. We also have girls that have found our website themselves, or someone has referred them.

Risen Magazine: Explain the mindset of a pimp and how he usually approaches the girls?
Susan Munsey: Girls may be looking for love and attention and meet a guy online who is portraying himself as somebody that he isn’t. The mall and the bus line are the two places pimps patrol regularly looking for young girls; they’re predators and they know exactly what to look for. For instance if they go to the shopping malls and see a young girl walking around the mall during school hours, they already know there is a problem because she’s skipping school. They look for signs of low self-esteem, or if she’s troubled and they begin talking to her. We call it “love bombing.” They start making the girl believe that they really care about her, that they want to listen to her problems, they will even buy her a cheap meal or maybe [offer to] pay to have her nails done. The pimps begin to give the girl some things that look like love, and if she is missing love in her life, then she can be lured pretty easily.

She is trying to get out of a very difficult situation and the girl doesn’t realize that she is jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Risen Magazine: How long does the process usually take before he has lured the girl?
Susan Munsey: It’s usually a very short period of time, about a week or two. And he always gets her phone number and texts her telling her how much he loves her to really groom her into the process.

Risen Magazine: Explain in more detail what impact social media has played in finding girls?
Susan Munsey: So many people are online now and they may be home alone where nobody is monitoring their computer use and then they start talking to the wrong person. Especially young people who are at a phase in their life where they are no longer looking to their parents for advice and support but more to their peers. Now, here is this supposed peer online who is giving them attention and support and the girl gets lured in pretty easily. It can happen that the guy presents himself as someone who he isn’t too because usually he is a lot older. The girl may be 14-16 years old, while he is 30-40 years old, but saying he is 25 years old. The girl is just enthralled that this older guy is interested in her.

Risen Magazine: Just imagining the situation these girls are in is heart wrenching. How do most girls get into this type of situation and what are common elements from their backgrounds that could be possible indicators?
Susan Munsey: Abuse is very common. Whether it’s physical or sexual abuse, and neglect is something that we see a lot of. There might be a rape in her history, but somehow these girls have learned that their body is not their own, they don’t have a right to say no, and they need to give their bodies up. So there is even an earlier training ground that happens for them inadvertently.

Risen Magazine: A conference speaker mentioned how Facebook was being used to have girls convince their friends to be part of the “lifestyle.” What have you heard about this or any type of reward-based recruiting?
Susan Munsey: Yes, there is definitely recruiting that goes on. The girl recruiting is called “the bottom” but she is actually the top – it’s a reversed kind of thinking. She may go into the schools and lure girls choosing whoever is vulnerable; some may particularly prey on Special Education kids. It could be meeting a girl on the street, through Facebook, or some other social media means that they can bring them in. The more girls the [recruiting] girl brings in, the better the treatment she gets. Such as they can get clothes, or maybe they don’t have to work as much, they might get to be the boss over the other girls; whatever it is that might make their life easier. I don’t know if this is a spoken deal, but the [recruiter] girl knows that the more girls she brings in, the better she is treated. But overall, the girls are taught to be pitted against each other. Pimps don’t want anyone getting secure, or feeling like they all can [band together] and gang up on the trafficker.

GenerateHope. Photo by Joanne Max

GenerateHope. Photo by Joanne Max

Risen Magazine: How does the seduction process work? How are these girls manipulated to do whatever the pimp wants?
Susan Munsey: There is a lot of what is called Stockholm Syndrome – that’s where there is some bond created between him [the pimp] and her [girl being trafficked.] There is a lot of brainwashing and fear that is involved. The girls may have seen another girl beaten, or they may have been beaten themselves. There may be some pictures that have been taken and [the pimp] threatens to put them on the Internet, or maybe he will say, “If you don’t do this for me, I’ll get your little sister to do that!” or he’ll threaten the family, etc. I really don’t think they talk a lot about the details that are going to happen, it’s more just slowly pushing the boundaries.

Risen Magazine: What percentage, would you say, of girls involved in this type of situation are forced, versus their own free will?
Susan Munsey: I think that it’s 100 percent force, fraud, and coercion. Nobody chooses to sell themselves unless they don’t have any other choices. So it may be that a girl makes the “choice” to sell herself, but she does that because she’s afraid she’s going to lose this guy [pimp,] the only “love” she has ever had, if she doesn’t. Or she’s afraid that she will get hurt, or her family will get hurt. The girls have a quota every night that they need to bring in and it’s usually around $1,000. If you think about it, if a pimp has a couple of girls and each one is bringing in a $1,000 a night, well it can become a very lucrative business. So the pimps are going to use whatever means they need in order to keep these girls doing the job that they have set up for them.

Risen Magazine: In your opinion, how premeditated are the actions of a pimp? Does he have a goal of how many girls he wants to have? Is there a venue he provides for the sex?
Susan Munsey: I think these are cruel people. My guess would be that they are all anti-social and their goal would be to make as much money as they can in whatever way they can. It doesn’t matter the cost. Most all the work happens over the Internet.
There may be a trafficker who is sitting in the hotel room with let’s say three girls. He puts out an [online] ad, and when people answer the ad, he responds to it as if he is the girl. Once a date is set up then he’ll send one of the girls out to another hotel room to meet the guy [who answered the ad] and provide the services that have been agreed upon. That is how most of it happens, but there is still some street prostitution.

Risen Magazine: Media isn’t always the best example, but in the movie Taken, the girls kidnapped into sex trafficking are also drugged. How accurate is that when it comes to this line of work?
Susan Munsey: Drugs can be involved and oftentimes the girls need to do something to get through the night. They need some sort of technique of getting away from whatever it is that is happening to them without ever actually getting away. Some girls will disassociate and try to leave their minds, which they may have learned when they were being sexually abused as a child. But other times girls will use drugs to deal with it. They drink a lot and then use cocaine, or ecstasy, to keep them awake so they can still do their work. People sometimes think that women are involved in prostitution because they are drug addicts and that’s the way they pay for their addiction, but that’s actually a very small percentage of the women. It’s more typical that drugs are used to get through what these girls have to get through. And sometimes the pimp provides [the drugs,] and sometimes the girls provide [the drugs] for themselves.

The most lucrative business for organized crime, or gangs, is guns, drugs, and then prostitution. And they know they can sell the girls over and over again, yet can only sell the guns or drugs once.

Risen Magazine: Does a pimp take a girl, or does she agree to live with him full-time because she is so brainwashed? How is it arranged?
Susan Munsey: It can vary, but typically the girl will agree to leave her life. There is usually something [she is trying to escape,] or maybe she is even being abused at home. She is trying to get out of a very difficult situation and the girl doesn’t realize that she is jumping from the frying pan into the fire. She doesn’t always know what he [the pimp] is asking for either. It may be that he is still “love bombing” her saying, “You can come stay with me. It sounds like your family is terrible,” or “You don’t have to finish school, I’ll take care of you” and all the things that she wants to hear, or actually needs to hear, in order to leave.

Risen Magazine: What happens when they are no longer needed? Age out? Not sexy enough?
Susan Munsey: Well, it’s not common that they would age out. There is a high mortality rate in this business, if you can call it that. Women can be killed; they are frequently raped and abused. They can die, get too involved with drugs, or be sold to another pimp. If a girl is giving her pimp trouble, he can sell her to somebody else who is more brutal and may be more capable of controlling her.

Risen Magazine: It sounds as if the traffickers work together. Explain how this occurs.
Susan Munsey: Yes for sure. There is also a lot of gang activity so rival gangs sometimes even work together to help keep the girls under control. Gang involvement is another way of entry into that world. We see a lot of this, where the girl may have been gang raped or gang beaten, as opposed to being lured in, and told what to do [by being threatened into submission] with the pimps saying, “We will kill your family,” or “We will do this to your little sister or brother,” or “We will kill the family dog.” And the thing is, once the gangs have played this trick, once they have gone out there and done that to a girl, it’s really hard for the girl to come back. You see there is a psychological change that happens to the girls, there is also a change that happens physically and spiritually as well. It’s sad, but the most lucrative business for organized crime, or gangs, is guns, drugs, and then prostitution. And they know they can sell the girls over and over again, yet can only sell the guns or drugs once.

Risen Magazine: Where are these girls staying during the daytime?
Susan Munsey: They are usually staying in motels. Sometimes there may be a house that they stay in, but very often they just stay in a motel because the gangs or pimps keep moving them around. There have circuits. They may move the girls up to Oceanside, and then down in Chula Vista, and then back up to El Cajon Boulevard. Or they could move them from San Diego to Las Vegas or a city where there is a big sporting event happening. The more movement, the less stable the girls feel. The girls don’t feel they have people around that can help them escape, no family, and they may not even know what city they are in. The pimp will often take the girls’ identification so they couldn’t even get a bus ticket if they wanted to because they don’t have their ID.

Risen Magazine: Besides the obvious money, what would possess pimps to want to be in this business?
Susan Munsey: Sometimes it is a family business. It may be a father, or an uncle, who teaches the younger boy what to do. The boys start “pimping” as young as 14-15 years old now so they are right there in the schools with the girls. They are starting very, very young and the penalties aren’t severe because the boys are still minors. [If caught,] they do their little bit of time and then they go back out and continue to do the same thing because it’s very lucrative. Most pimps will continue until they get busted, something else happens to stop them, or they go into a different crime. I really think that most all pimps have “Anti-Social Personality Disorder.” They aren’t thinking in the same terms that normal people do. The only thing that is important to them is that they get their needs met, and in any way they need to do that, they will.

Risen Magazine: How often are pimps caught?
Susan Munsey: I think that law enforcement does try to catch pimps by talking to the girls after they are in recovery, but remember, the girls are brainwashed to protect the pimp, so it takes awhile for the girls to stand up against the perpetrators. I think in some cases if a woman is raped, that woman may chose to not go to court, or she may choose not to report it because she doesn’t want to have to go through all that comes with giving a pimp’s identity. I think what often helps is that when a woman has gotten treatment and had a chance for her head to clear, she realizes more about the entrapment and is much more likely to testify against the pimp.

Risen Magazine: Education is a key component that is unique to GenerateHope versus most other programs. How does it work?
Susan Munsey: We provide all the basic necessities, food, clothing, housing, and such. We also have an education component in which the girls go to school every day and work towards their high school education. When they have gotten their diploma, we work towards college or a trade school. There are also other classes mixed in; art, jewelry-making, or like today everyone went on a field trip to a museum. We also have psychosocial groups where the girls can work on the trauma from the sex trade. It may be a PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] class, or a substance abuse class, but there is group and individual therapy. We also offer classes that work on some of the things the girls have missed in their adolescence, like money management, communication skills, and social skills. Everybody takes turns cooking and takes a rotating chore. On Saturdays the girls try to get their chores done by noon so the rest of the weekend is free [time]. Once the girls have been with us long enough to get stable, they may transfer to the transitional housing where they have less supervision, but still have support available. From there they can go to a subsidized apartment until finishing their education or are able to get a job and support themselves.

Risen Magazine: How shielded from regular life do you keep the girls in the program as they transition back to normalcy?
Susan Munsey: We have a lot of structure. We have house rules and things they have to abide by, and when they come and go, they have to check in with the “house moms.” We have a white board to write where they are going and when they will be back. The first month they are at the house, they have to stay on campus unless they go somewhere with a volunteer or instructor. There are a lot of outings that they still can go on, so it’s not like lockdown, but it’s really like they are in a “holding state” –we are holding that person in a loving way so they can start to change their thought processes, their habits and behaviors. After the first month, they are allowed one day a week to go and do something that they want to do, like go to the park, the mall, or meet a family member. They slowly own more and more free time as they become more responsible.

It’s really like they are in a “holding state” –we are holding that person in a loving way so they can start to change their thought processes, their habits and behaviors.

Risen Magazine: Hearing how family life has played a role, whether positive or negative, what contact are the girls allowed with their families?
Susan Munsey: It depends on the individual. If the family is healthy, then we want to encourage that connection. Oftentimes the family is not healthy, or they are basically non-existent so that’s not a big part of the girls’ healing picture. We certainly don’t want to discourage them from having contact with their family if it is a healthy situation.

Risen Magazine: What percent of the girls who are caught, usually go back and continue working for their pimp?
Susan Munsey: It’s pretty common. I would say probably 30-40 percent of the time, girls will leave and then come back [to GenerateHope.] It’s a hard habit for them to break. We do everything we can to get them to stay, but we do give them free choice. We will talk with them and say, “I don’t think that you are making a good choice right now,” or “You do have other options so lets talk about those,” or “Can you sleep on this tonight? I know that you are very upset right now, but this isn’t the best time to make a decision.” We work to keep them here, but we don’t chase after them, or go looking for them when they leave.

Risen Magazine: Has a pimp ever tried contacting a girl in your program, and if so, what has happened?
Susan Munsey: No, and the reason is sad. It’s easier for pimps to go and get a new girl than for them to be bothered with somebody that will give them trouble. These are people that are crime perpetrators and bullies and they don’t want to deal with a responsible adult like one of the “house moms.” So if the girl is gone and at a place where there might be somebody that wants to protect her, the pimp doesn’t want to mess with that.

Risen Magazine: You were actually a victim of being sex-trafficked. To now be in the leadership position and helping young women in a similar situation, how are you able to help the girls feel more understood from your personal experiences?
Susan Munsey: I think that it gives me some initial trust with them, but only initially. I have to still show them that I care about them and that I’m not somebody else that just wants something from them. I still have to build trust with them. I was fortunate not to be involved in that [lifestyle] for very long. I think God really protected me, even in a bad situation, and used that bad situation to turn it around for good. I had had enough of a taste of what the good life could be, and I got out [of the bad] soon enough so there was not a lot of damage. I was able to go through a lot of counseling and get my head straight before I started working with people who have been through what I went through as a kid.
Risen Magazine: If you could have grabbed yourself at that age, and given yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?
Susan Munsey: I was 16 years old and feeling very lost and very alone. I probably would advise myself to try talking with my parents or getting some help. It was a time where kids didn’t go to therapy as much as they do these days and I think that would have been helpful. I would say, “You are going down a path that you have no idea what is at the end.” And then talk to myself about what things I might be getting into.

Risen Magazine: What role does faith play in your recovery program?
Susan Munsey: Faith is a big part of our program and it’s a big part of the people’s lives that come and work here. We are always praying for these girls, and we have prayer warriors who are also praying for the girls, and praying for us [staff]. It’s a big part of the foundation of this program. We have Bible studies and opportunities for the girls to go to church, but it’s a choice for them and not something we mandate. Interestingly, most of the girls that come here are at such a deep, dark, place that they are reaching out for help and looking for whatever that help is. Often, the girls will ask for prayer or ask about our faith, or will want to go to church and will pray to receive Christ. It’s really neat to see how God works in their lives no matter what we are doing. All the girls have stories about how God is working in their lives before he even brings them here to us. Church is their choice, and we like them to go with us but it’s always just an invitation.

Risen Magazine: Where has your faith been most tested throughout this whole process?
Susan Munsey: I think that anytime there have been tense moments, whether it’s been that we weren’t going to be able to pay the rent, or something that has been going on with one of the girls, I’ve had to really learn to rely more on God and to wait on him, and know that he comes through every time. This is his ministry, it’s not Susan’s ministry; as much as I try to charge on out there acting like it’s all mine, it’s Gods. I have to keep coming back to that, and keep coming back to him, asking, “Okay Lord, what do you want me to do with this?

Risen Magazine: A lot that has happened these past two years. What are the current needs that your organization has and how can the public help?
Susan Munsey: Finances are always a need. People can also volunteer by coming in and helping with the classes, or getting girls to appointments, or taking them out for a fun day trip. We also welcome help with the new minor’s house we’re opening. We will have a need for a variety of ways to help there. If somebody feels so called, they can become a “house mom.” There is always behind-the-scenes work from accounting to grant writing, or fundraising, even admin stuff. If somebody wants to come here and help, we can find a place for them!
*Stop Child Trafficking: http://www.sctnow.org

Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2012

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